You may have seen, in one way or another, an electronic device opened up for repair. The flat board that holds the electronic components is called a printed circuit board or commonly known as the PCB. The PCB has patterns of thin copper lines or strips on one (or both) of its surfaces. This copper pattern acts like wires that connect together the electronic components that form the circuit.
During the early years of electronics design, components were connected using a point-to-point method wherein sockets and wires are used to connect one component to another. Imagine the old telephone switchboard with all the wires dangling and exposed – that was what the old method of electronics connections looked like.
Although this method was effective, it was very inefficient because it was prone to constant breakdown as well as short circuits. Since wires and components are exposed to the elements, they are subject to wear and tear. They were made using materials like Masonite, and the electronic components would be attached by rivets and screws and then connected with wires.
In 1943, Paul Eisler, an inventor and engineer from the United Kingdom, came up with a method of etching copper foil onto a non-conductive flat material. This gave birth to the early forms of the printed circuit board. The idea started picking up during the Second World War, where the use of PCB proved essential in manufacturing communications modules and other important equipment.
The double-sided printed circuit board with plated through holes was invented in 1947, merely a couple of years after the war. With drilled holes and with both surfaces of the PCB having copper strips for connecting electronic components, it became easier to come up with circuit designs – this led to the production of smaller, more compact electronic devices.
The earlier PCBs had copper patterns on one surface or both surfaces of the board wherein electronic components are either soldered or riveted in place.
Advancements in materials technology gave birth to Printed circuit boards that are composed of multiple layers, with each layer having different copper strip patterns so more electronic components can be connected using a single board. During the 1980s, the surface mount technology was introduced and it revolutionized the electronics industry. Using the surface mount method, electronic components are stamped onto the board, eliminating the need to solder components.
Throughout the advances in miniaturization and large-scale integration, printed circuit boards have proven to be efficient and useful in electronics design. Electronic circuits have become smaller and even more efficient, which in turn led to lower production costs. Old computers that used to occupy a big room were reduced to a size that would fit a small table, despite having even more power. If it wasn’t for PCBs, electronic devices would be bulky and would occupy large rooms and areas. These devices will also generate too much heat and will be far from portable.
Today, printed circuit boards can be seen and used everywhere. From your mobile phone to your big flat screen television, PCBs have evolved through time. Miniaturization technology has led to the manufacture of densely-packed circuit boards. Future designs may even led to the production of 3-dimensional plastic boards that can hold more complex and denser webs of circuitry involving copper, aluminum, or gold strips; wires and embedded components would also be integrated in new, much more discreet ways.
All in all, printed circuit boards are expected to evolve, with both technology and advancements directing its development. Surely, the PCB industry will remain profitable for the foreseeable future; it might even become much more financially rewarding.